I went to the Bier Baron Wednesday night to check out a drinking and discussion group. The special was a burger and beer for $10. The topic was art and how you learn to see. (Nice surprise to run into my friend Catherine.)
A local artist walked us through slides of art, describing how to see what they are about, how we process our reactions, and what this tells us about seeing things in daily life.
She drew particular attention to images of suffering–sketches of the homeless, photos from the Depression, images from 9/11. “Do you see these images or people,” she asked, “or do you look away?” Nothing goes well with beer like a robust conversation about pain. But something struck a chord with the twenty of us.
After the presentation several peopled mentioned that images of suffering linger in their mind more than sunsets or flowers. Others said suffering spurred them to action, while others said it caused discomfort. I wondered how being Christian shapes looking at suffering, since the cross is a key symbol of that faith. How you deal with pain, particularly when little or nothing can be done about it, is a big life question for those willing to ask it.
I am aware that my mind is full of vivid images of suffering. I lost a job unjustly. I held the hands of both parents, and two grandparents, as they died. For one, I was alone. I was mugged, beaten, and left bloodied in the street. Plans for a new career were put on hold, and questioned if they would ever happen.
I have much to learn about how to look at these experiences. One thing I have learned so far is that sometimes the only victory is not running away.
Stay. Sit. Hold the hand of a dying loved one so that they are not alone. Stare down the darkness and imagine a flicker of light. Look at the pain; don’t turn away. This too is true, though not the whole truth. Accept the hurt as a bleak sacrament that is itself and a mysterious opening to something truer and more real.
I can open my eyes to suffering because there’s more to see than the pain. What I am willing to see may break my heart, but I am convinced it will also break my heart open. There is more to receive, more to see, more to become, for those with eyes to see.
“The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both.”
“Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”